by Theodore May

Your first 60 seconds

Nov 14, 2017
IT Leadership

The first 60 seconds are critical to the success of any business presentation.

Man looking up at clock on wall deadline
Credit: Thinkstock

Every minute in your presentation has to be earned. In the first 60 seconds you must earn the audience’s permission to continue for the next 60 seconds. That next 60 seconds earns the 60 seconds after that. You have to earn an audience’s permission to continue.

A business audience makes up its mind very quickly whether they want to invest their time and attention listening to you. So, unless you are the boss and they HAVE to listen to you, in that first 60 seconds you need to grab the audience’s attention and hold it. You literally don’t have a minute to lose.

Content fails

Most presentation failures are content failures and the most spectacular failures happen in the first 60 seconds. We are too often unprepared for this first minute.

We are all conditioned to begin our presentation with:

  • Introductions
  • An agenda or table of contents
  • An executive summary
  • A personal anecdote or “story”

But most modern audiences don’t have the time or attention span for that. Don’t waste the audience’s time outlining, describing, or summarizing the work you have done or what you are about to do. Just do it.  Get on with it, quickly.  The most effective way to engage and establish rapport with a business audience is not to try entertaining them with an account of something that happened to you or someone you know, it’s sharing something important and of immediate interest to the audience. 

The response you want from the audience in the first 60 seconds of your presentation is, “Please continue. Tell us more.” Not, “Where is this going and what does it have to do with me?”

What needs to happen 

And that does not mean briskly leading your audience into a blizzard of data and analysis. What an audience responds to most are the insights you have gained from your analysis of the data and the ideas those insights have engendered. The attention of an audience is captured not with a “hook” but an idea.

So, begin your presentation with an idea. What is your big idea?  What are the insights you have gained from the work you have been doing that inform those ideas?  And what is your objective in sharing these insights and ideas with the audience?  Essentially:

Insights > Ideas > Objectives

You will need to provide the essential information and data that lends credibility to your insight and supports your idea – three good reasons or proofs as to why what you are saying is true – in the body of your presentation.  And you will likely want to present a narrative that capture’s the imagination of your audience and suggests a role for each to play. But in the first minute of your presentation you need to plant your key idea firmly in the minds of your audience, and invite them to see what you see and to want what you want.

A strong objective

The depth of your insight, the innovative and disruptive character of your idea, and the boldness of your objective provides the force that will change the inertia of your audience. Your objective needs to be clear, specific, attainable and have emotional resonance with your audience. That is how you transform an audience’s thinking and move them to action.

And this force needs to be applied immediately, in the first 60 seconds of your presentation.  Once you have earned the response, “Please continue, tell us more,” you can share with them with them more information and data. 

Your elevator speech

So, the first minute of your presentation is effectively an elevator speech. 

It should be short, memorable, and repeatable. Short, because you have 60 seconds to make an impression. Devote no more than 1-2 sentences to your idea; 2-3 sentences for the insights that inform your idea; and a single sentence that boldly states your objective. These sentences need to be memorable, because you want to promote audience recall; and repeatable so that the audience can become evangelists and propagate your ideas and objectives throughout the organization.

This is not only how you should think about your presentation. It’s how you should think about your job.  If you can’t stand up in front of a group of fellow managers on a moment’s notice and tell them quickly and clearly what it is you’re working on – what it is you’re doing – what the key insights are that inform the work that you’re doing and state your objective, then you must ask yourself just what is it that you are doing?  Do you even know what it is you are doing? 

But if you can articulate that in a practiced and confident way, in 60 seconds or less, they will lean forward and say, “Interesting. Please, continue. Tell us more!”